The Hague - The International Criminal Court must broaden its investigation into the violence that ripped Ivory Coast apart in 2010 and 2011 to include violations committed by loyalists of President Alassane Ouattara, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
Since 2011, the Hague-based court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has been probing a conflict that erupted after former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in a vote the year before.
However only Gbagbo and figures loyal to him have been charged so far by the ICC for crimes committed in post-election violence that left at least 3 000 people dead.
Gbagbo, who is in custody in The Hague, is the first former head of state to be prosecuted by the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal.
"It's absolutely urgent to get started" with a probe into violence committed by Ouattara loyalists during the war, said Elizabeth M Evenson, senior counsel of HRW's international justice programme.
Deeply polarised opinion
"Additional ICC investigations are necessary, but the focus so far on pro-Ggbabo forces has deeply polarised opinion... about the ICC" within Ivory Coast, Evenson said.
The New York-based rights group warned that a failure to expand the scope of the investigations would leave many in Ivory Coast feeling unjustly sidelined.
"Many victims feel that the court has ignored their suffering," Evenson said.
Also read: Journalists in Kenya threatened: rights group
Gambian lawyer Bensouda has previously pledged her office would investigate abuses by both sides, but has been held back by limited resources, HRW said.
Evenson's remarks came as HRW released a report titled "Making Justice Count", which urged the ICC to do more to involve communities affected by the violence in Ivory Coast in its work.
"ICC officials need to carry out their mandates in a manner designed to ensure that the ICC's delivery of justice will be accessible, meaningful, and perceived as legitimate - that is, that it can have impact - in countries where it conducts investigations," the rights group said.
The report criticised the ICC's failure to deploy an outreach officer, tasked with communicating with the broader communities with a stake in the proceedings, until autumn 2014.
It also said the court has failed to contact Ivorian refugee communities outside the country, which are perceived as allied with Gbagbo.
"During the election crisis, many of them were likely victims or witnesses of crimes carried out by pro-Ouattara forces and militias," the report said.
"Some members of these communities... perceived the absence of cases against anyone associated with Ouattara during the war as a bias of the court," it added.
Gbagbo, who was president from 2000 to 2011, has been held in The Hague since his late 2011 transfer. He is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.
Formed in 2002, the ICC has opened nine cases in eight countries, all in Africa, with accusations it can only deliver victor's justice.